Running on fumes

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Short-handed Rockets drop one to Pistons 115-107

If there's ever a night for a potential title contender to lose a game to a sub-.500 team, this would be it. The Houston Rockets went into the Toyota Center tonight off of three games in four nights completely exhausted and without Russell Westbrook (rest) and Eric Gordon (knee scope). You never want to excuse a loss like this for a contender, but it's kind of hard to hold this one against the Rockets, when Mike D'Antoni himself admitted there was an element of exhaustion for the team tonight.

Even James Harden, famous for never admitting when he's hurt, admitted there was an element of "schedule loss" to Houston's performance tonight.

"It is what it is," Harden said after the game. "We all know how difficult it is so we have to continue to fight through."

The Rockets shot 13 for 45 from three-point range with seemingly all of the misses coming short. They looked sluggish and a step slow on defense as a team and weren't always running back in transition.

When players like Christian Wood (11 points and 12 rebounds in only 21 minutes) and Derrick Rose (20 points and 12 assists) are out-efforting you, sometimes all that's left is tipping your cap to the opponent.

"Like I said, they played well," said D'Antoni. "We just - you get behind, then you try to get back in there and a couple of things go wrong. We just didn't have the mental energy to take control of the game and get it over with."

Star of the game: James Harden gave an admirable effort tonight, but it was apparent from the beginning of the game that his tank was empty. Harden logged 39 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 steal on 14 of 33 shooting from the field, 1 of 4 shooting from three-point range, and 7 of 8 shooting from the free throw line. After posting consecutive 50-point games and carrying the team to their last two victories, it's hard to blame Harden for being as tired as he was.

Honorable mention: Chris Clemons took advantage of the opportunity that was given to him in stride. Clemons posted 17 points 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 6 of 12 shooting from the field and 5 of 11 shooting from three-point range. It's hard to imagine Clemons cracking the rotation when Westbrook and Gordon come back, but he's done a great job with the playing time that he's been given.

Key moment: James Harden scored 17 of his 39 points in the third quarter and 11 of his points came in the final 5 minutes. Harden helped the Rockets cut it to a 10-point game. Even though his effort ended up being fruitless, it was yet another example of the kind of responsibility Harden has to carry in this offense every night.

Up next: The Rockets play the San Antonio Spurs in Houston at 7:00 p.m. on Monday.

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Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Rockets traded a 2nd round pick to the Cavaliers for Kevin Porter Jr. on Thursday night. Hopefully, his difficulties off the court can be solved and it works out for the Rockets.

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